I’m going to tell you a tale of two Christians. One is a woman, one a man and by the end of the tale, you’ll know who both of them are. I’ll start with the woman. From all outward appearances, she leads a blessed and comfortable life. In fact, many people, especially those suffering in a third-world situation or in a country hostile to the gospel, would laugh to think she had anything to complain about. All of her basic needs are met and always have been. And in fact, she lives in a culture and society where if her immediate family ever fell into hard times, extended family or church family or social welfare would have the means to step in and help. Starvation or exposure is never a fear. She has a loving and healthy family, a believing spouse, kind friends. On top of that, she has been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ never to face condemnation. And yet, she experiences seasons of discouragement. She becomes weary in well-doing, can be plagued by fears rerunning in her mind, or become stressed about relationships that aren’t going well or sins that are clinging so closely. Her evangelistic zeal is not what she would like it to be. Sometimes she feels like in the Christian life, she is just hanging on.
Now for the man. No one would ever say he leads a blessed or comfortable life. He’s in prison at a time when if people didn’t bring him food or clothing he would starve or freeze to death. He doesn’t have any biological family to speak of. His former career is in destroyed and even some of his new friends have deserted him. But instead of “just hanging on” – he is rejoicing. He is encouraged in Christ. He says he is content in all circumstances, he is sharing the gospel and growing churches like crazy.
What does he have that she doesn’t have? Perspective. Five years ago when our pastor preached Philippians at a former church, he noted in his first sermon that along with joy, a main idea that comes out the book of Philippians is perspective. The man in my tale, Paul, has a perspective that the woman, me, at times doesn’t have. What is that perspective? Paul describes it in our passage today. He’s done it before in the letter, but I think our passage today has some of the most compact and clear descriptions of what our perspective in life should be. I’d like to break up this passage into it’s three paragraph sections and do a flying overview of them in three points: 1) perspective in disagreement, 2) perspective in trouble, 3) perspective in practice.
First, Paul thinks Euodia and Syntyche, along with the church at Philippi and the rest of us need some perspective when we’re having a disagreement with another believer. Isn’t it so easy to lose perspective in an argument? We think we’re pretty reasonable people – until someone crosses us. Then we can become irrational or emotionally demanding in order to get our own way, often later to look back and see how unreasonable we had become.
We don’t know what these two ladies are disagreeing about, but it doesn’t seem to be a gospel issue or I think Paul clearly would call out the one in error as he did with the “dogs” back in chapter 3. It seems then to be a more minor issue – maybe how something is done in their women’s ministry. And it seems that whether E or S is right isn’t as important as their agreeing in the Lord (actually the same greek word as back in chapter 2 which means “being of the same mind”).
Paul gives these women (and us) two tools here to help them gain perspective. First, he encourages the church to help them, because apparently their disagreement had become widely known. Paul is saying here that it’s good to enlist the help of other believers in our conflicts, if needed. Pride or embarrassment at needing help are great tools of Satan that would keep us from doing this. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a time when I really needed a mediator between me and another woman in this way. However, there have been a couple of times in the past few years where my husband and I really couldn’t agree about an ethical or important decision. It works a little different in a marriage because I am called to submit to Dan, but I asked him humbly if he would mind asking an older brother what he thought before he proceeded. That was very helpful for us. It helped preserve unity in our marriage and I know it could in our church, too. One caveat in involving others, though: both parties should be aware of and agreeable to the outside help. Beware of seeking outside counsel without permission – this is thinly veiled gossip.
Second, Paul reminds the women that their names are written together in the book of life. Our lives here are short, eternity is long. The fact that we are redeemed together from eternal punishment in hell should make the bees in our bonnets seem of little significance. If we can’t agree in such a way as to live harmoniously with another believer in our church or family, doesn’t it merely show that we love ourselves and our own opinions more than this other person who Jesus also bought with his own blood? Let’s pray that God would help us repent of our demands and our rights. We are not our own. We were bought with a price…and because of that we are together in the book of life.
In the second paragraph, Paul moves from outer conflicts and into our own minds. I think there is a connection, however. A peace with others starts with a peace inside us, a peace between ourselves and God. So Paul drives more at the root and gives us a mental perspective to have when there is trouble – so this is point 2, verses 4-7 – perspective in trouble. What can we do in trial to maintain a right perspective? First, rejoice. Protect yourself from going far down the road of fear, anxiety, and discontent, by rejoicing in the Lord himself and the fact that your name is in the book of life. Next, to remember that the Lord is at hand – he is near. I love how the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” based on Isaiah 40 states it:
Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
He will never leave us, nor forsake us, especially not in trials. Let’s believe this deeply and be comforted.
Since he is near, we can cast our cares upon him by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. This week I was able to gain some perspective over a freezer issue thanks to this passage. Our ice maker broke and then the freezer wasn’t cooling properly, which I realized after loading it with a ton of meat I had bought at Costco for Christmas guests. The issue was particularly bothering me when I sat down later that afternoon to work on my Philippians Bible study on verses 4-7. After being convicted about my anxiety I thought, ok, I’m just going to try this out. I’m going to pray about my freezer with supplication and thanksgiving. Here goes: “God, I pray that I would trust you with my freezer. If it is your will, I pray that you would cause it to work properly. Thank you that I have another freezer in my basement to use. Thank you that I have money to buy food for my family and our guests. Thank you that one day I will feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb, full and unbroken with You.” That put things into perspective.
In praying these things with thanksgiving, I ultimately realized that the most important peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, is not based on circumstances. If we are in Christ, we already have peace with God, have eternal life in Him, and nothing can take that away. Having this perspective of that peace guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. He is the source of our peace with God. In the stressful busy-ness of the Christmas season, I don’t want to look for my peace in the perfect meal, the perfect family, the perfect gifts. I want to look for peace in Jesus alone, and He promises I will find it.
Finally, in verses 8 and 9 Paul shows us how to practice having a right perspective of God, our relationships, and our circumstances. This is point 3 – perspective in practice. As Keri Folmar pointed out in our study, all of these characteristics – whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise – belong to Jesus Christ. And apparently according to verse 9, Paul was practicing them, too. Though neither of them are with us now, Jesus’s life is at work in us through the Holy Spirit, and He and Paul have given us the Word of God to follow. So let’s continue to read it, pray it, meditate upon it, sit under the preaching of it. That is how our minds will be filled with these wonderful things.
And let’s also determine to lay aside the sin that clings so closely by fighting contrary thoughts. Can you imagine what peace and proper perspective we would have if we only thought true things? This would include mentally saying no to fears, most of which never actually occur. Or refusing to make assumptions about people, their speech or motives, what they think about us. Instead, filling your mind with excellent things about God and others, making just and gracious judgments, having pure thoughts leading to pure motives and actions. We can’t and don’t do this on our own. God works in us to will and to work according to His good pleasure. Let’s pray for that and immerse ourselves in the excellent things of His Word. As the Hymn says:
How Firm a Foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus hath fled?
Would you like more peace this Christmas season like me? Then you need some perspective. As we close today in our groups, let’s discuss and then pray about where we could use some proper perspective this Christmas season using Phil 4:2-9 as our prayer guide.